Panels vs. Research Communities: A Practical Comparison


When considering how to engage customers in an effort to better understand your target segments, establishing a longitudinal way to conduct research via a community or panel can be a wise and strategic choice. But what are the differences between a panel and a community, and what should you expect with each?

In this article, we’ll talk about variances in panels and communities and share how to determine which is right for your needs. Let’s start by level setting on what panels and communities are.

A panel is a database of opted-in members—often customers—with the primary goal of gaining efficient access to them over time for research and/or learning purposes.

A community often takes this a giant step further and engages those, and other customers and/or consumers in an online environment, providing invited members with a more interactive, engaging, and reciprocal experience.

What are the key dimensions that set research communities and panels apart?

Panel vs. Research Community

Which approach is right for you?

There are several key decision criteria for determining if a panel or community is right for you. First off, what are your business objectives? If you have a large list of potential participants or if your target is easy to source, and you are most interested in ease of access, a panel is a great option. It will allow you to quickly gain feedback from participants, particularly with quantitative and survey methodologies.

If you are going to be using both qualitative and quantitative activities, or when looking for longer longitudinal relationships with participants, a community is recommended or even a hybrid panel plus a community approach.

While communities do offer several benefits over a panel, it’s important to remember that the community’s benefits come at a cost. Communities tend to be more expensive than a panel given the need for a platform for participants to interact with. To read more about those considerations, explore our post on platform considerations.

They also require more effort week over week to ensure that the participants are engaged and community health is strong. If you’re wondering about the right type of service provider for you, explore our article on what to consider when choosing a partner for your community.

Both panels and communities offer value to organizations that want to understand their customers’ wants and needs. Ultimately, the choice of which to leverage comes down to your needs, your organization’s willingness to invest, and the amount of time you’re able to dedicate.